I haven’t watched TV at dinner time with my brother since the last big election. We’re both retired. We watch a lot of TV. If it were up to my brother, he would never flip from his favorite news channel. Without fail he argues with different viewpoints than those found on his channel. Often, he argues with me before I speak.
We used to watch the detective genre. I like to see the bad guy get caught. “Murder, She Wrote,” “Hart to Hart,” “McMillan and Wife.” Sometimes I’d pick newer shows such as “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.” Unfortunately, some of the newer crime shows are very detailed, very scientific. My brother always refused to watch CSI.
I remember my last dinner-time detective show we watched together in the kitchen. It was an episode of “Columbo.” It was very interesting. The murderer was a magician. If you have never had the pleasure of watching “Columbo,” the show’s premise is very simple. In the show’s beginning, a murder is committed. We, the TV audience, witness the crime, the alibi, and, of course, the criminal. We know who did it. The fun is in watching the seemingly inept detective use his smarts to catch the criminal and bring him or her to justice.
This magician was very clever. While supposedly locked in a trunk and then lowered into a tank of water, he killed the nightclub’s owner. But the constant objections of my brother regarding the magician’s guilt during this episode made it very difficult for me to enjoy the show.
We witnessed this magician leave his trunk before the trunk went into the water. We watched as he climbed down a step ladder, went into his basement office, changed into a waiter’s uniform, and snuck upstairs to the owner’s office. He picked the door lock and shot the owner. All this time, the magician was supposed to be locked in a trunk in a tank of water. Despite what we witnessed, my brother wasn’t convinced the magician was guilty.
“I don’t know how you can say that the magician isn’t guilty,” I told my brother.
“It’s simple,” he shot back. “He’s a magician.”
Without trying to sound boastful, I challenged my brother immediately. I reviewed every point of the magician’s steps he took to commit the crime and conceal his guilt. Each time I was met with my brother’s objections. I pointed out that we saw the magician climb down from a trap door out of his locked trunk.
“I didn’t see him leave the trunk. I saw him climb down the step ladder.”
“We watched him put on the waiter’s uniform.”
“I saw many other waiters,” my brother countered.
“We saw the magician shoot the owner.”
“I saw the magician fire a gun. Then the owner fell.”
Imagine my frustration. I tried to explain to my brother the act of pre-meditated murder. The person guilty of the crime must plan or consider the act beforehand. He cannot act out of emotion, nor can the death result from accident or carelessness. The corpus delicti, as the deceased is sometimes called, must be the direct result of a conscious, mindful act.
Over the course of the show, every time we watched Columbo prove part of the magician’s alibi a lie, my brother refused to accept it. He claimed every revealed clue could be a lie. “Don’t be stupid,” he told me.
I told him not to call me stupid. “Columbo follows clues. He doesn’t lie to the TV audience.” Otherwise the rumpled, cigar smoking character whose name also serves as the show’s title would lose all credibility.
He pooh-poohed me. “Clues don’t matter. People use fake clues to throw everybody off track.”
I had him. “That’s exactly what’s happening on the show. The magician’s trying to throw everybody off track. Columbo has to follow a reasonable path. The clues have to add up. They have to make logical sense.”
When a commercial came on, my brother changed to his channel. The brand new President was speaking. He had recently made his inaugural address. I had watched part of the address and recalled it had rained. As a bit of harmless small talk, I mentioned that very fact to my brother. “Too bad it rained for his speech.”
My brother shushed me.
“But we had a massive field of people,” President Trump continued. “You saw them. Packed. I get up this morning, I turn on one of the networks, and they show an empty field. I say, wait a minute, I made a speech. I looked out, the field was—it looked like a million, million and a half people. They showed a field where there were practically nobody standing there. And they said, Donald Trump did not draw well. I said, it was almost raining, the rain should have scared them away, but God looked down and he said, we’re not going to let it rain on your speech.”
“Hah! It didn’t rain during his speech. You don’t know shit,” my brother laughed.
I said, “I remember seeing open umbrellas and ponchos covering people in the audience during the inauguration. Please get my show back.”
“A lot you know,” my brother laughed. “So much for clues.” After he switched back, he pointed at the TV. “Look, Columbo’s wearing a raincoat. I suppose it’s raining inside that nightclub they’re in. That would be some magic.”
After his ridiculous remarks, I left my brother and took my dinner into the den. I heard him change channels. After watching this program for well over an hour, my brother was content to skip the end. This annoyed me. Determined to have my brother witness the inevitable outcome where the magician is proven to be the murderer, I finished eating and waited until the last five minutes of “Columbo” before I returned to the kitchen. As I put my plate in the sink, my brother stood up and handed me the TV remote.
“Go ahead. Watch the end of your program,” he said. “I’m going to take a shower. I’ve seen this one before.”
I’ve eaten in the den ever since.
This essay, originally titled, “No Clue,” appeared in different form in From All Corners, a collection of five finalists in an Unsolicited Press essay contest.